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BART strike 2013: Rail system keeps running as talks continue

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - A major San Francisco Bay-area transit system was running trains on a normal schedule Tuesday after unions and management agreed to extend labor talks past a midnight deadline.

Bay Area Rapid Transit unions had said they would go on strike if they didn't reach a contract deal by midnight Monday after extending stalled negotiations from over the weekend.

But federal mediator George Cohen told reporters at about 1 a.m. Tuesday that "intense negotiations" would resume and go through the night.

The possibility of a strike loomed as the unions gave management a 24-hour reprieve from what would have been the second strike in more than three months. BART workers walked off the job for nearly five days in July. That strike resulted in traffic jams and long lines for buses.

Representatives of BART, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 resumed negotiations Monday afternoon, hours after tense negotiations ended around 3 a.m.

Sticking points in the 6-month-old negotiations include salaries and workers' contributions to their health and pension plans.

BART General Manager Grace Crunican said a "last, best and final offer" presented to the unions Sunday was $7 million higher than a proposal presented Friday. It includes an annual 3 percent raise over four years and requires workers to contribute 4 percent toward their pension and 9.5 percent toward medical benefits.

Crunican said the unions had two weeks to accept the deal before it would be taken off the table.

The unions said the parties were about $16 million apart over four years.

Workers from the two unions, which represent more than 2,300 mechanics, custodians, station agents, train operators and clerical staff, now average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually, the transit agency said. BART workers currently pay $92 a month for health care and contribute nothing toward their pensions.

BART is the nation's fifth-largest rail system. It serves about 400,000 riders each weekday.

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